“The multitude,” said Hugh E. McLaughlin during a speech in 1912, “have to travel for miles to some distant point to get a day’s enjoyment nowadays. Children and young people now make wide excursions for an hour’s play and grown people there depend upon their weekly or monthly expeditions for bodily and mental refreshment.” The multitude to which McLaughlin referred were the huddled masses residing in the congested Lower East Side of Manhattan, where parks were totally absent, forcing residents to take a trip uptown for a spot of greenery.
Where McLaughlin saw a problem, he also saw a solution. “At present in Manhattan there are elevated railroad structures on First avenue south of Twenty-third Street, on Second avenue north of Twenty-third street, on Third avenue entirely, on Park avenue through Harlem, on Sixth and Eighth avenue in part, and on lower Ninth avenue…Second avenue has no elevated railroad below Twenty-third street, and First avenue none above Twenty-third street, so that on these avenue the proposed ornamental parks and playgrounds can be built.
McLaughlin wasn’t just proposing that the parks be mere spots of green in the otherwise congested greyscape of the City; these would be real parks, complete with football fields, tennis courts, fountains, gymnasiums, and running tracks. He even suggested a covered baseball diamond, although this was before the home-run became an integral part of the game, so he didn’t have to worry about baseballs plummeting into car windows below.
McLaughlin’s ideas never really got off the ground, but almost a century later some folks did get together, and converted an elevated railroad into a long thin park, and New Yorkers today enjoy the High Line, which runs above Tenth Avenue. Of course, the High Line is on the other side of Manhattan from the very Lower East side, where McLaughlin noticed a lack of parks. Creative New Yorkers are working on that too, Dan Barasch, James Ramsey and the good folks at Delancy Underground are working to make the LowLine a reality, converting an abandoned trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street into a 1.5 acre park, lit by natural sunlight conveyed along fiber-optic cables. You can watch a video describing their idea here: http://thelowline.org/about